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Rethinking Ramadan

Exploring Women’s History Month amid tragedy in Palestine

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Muslims around the world are experiencing and witnessing a critical moment in history. March 10 to April 9 marks the month of Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, notably recognized for the practice of fasting. March also marks Women’s History Month, with International Women’s Day occurring on the 8th, offering a critical reflection about the impact of women’s voices and actions on the world. Ramadan represents a period of spiritual contemplation, exercised not only through fasting but through prayer and reflection. Each day Muslims are expected to fast from sunrise to sunset, culminating in iftar, otherwise known as the fast-breaking meal. Ramadan is a holiday designed to bring communities closer to one another, to embrace the joys in life, and keep negative thoughts at bay. However, amid global tensions, particularly with the worsening conditions in Gaza, many Muslims find it difficult to celebrate and embrace the holiday as they have in the past. 

With regards to Islamic sentiment in the province of Quebec, there has been a history of discrimination from the government against citizens who display religious symbols through the implementation of Bill 21. This law prohibits people working in governmental positions such as lawyers, teachers, and police officers from wearing religious symbols, which has disproportionately affected Muslim women who wear hijabs. Although there have been countless challenges from civil liberty groups against this bill, it is still a governing piece of legislation within the province. Ramadan’s coinciding timeline with Women’s History Month more evidently displays the additional burden that Bill 21 places on many Muslim women. In Palestine, for example, the general lack of hygienic products available has made it increasingly difficult for women to access menstrual products. As a result, these women have resorted to other solutions such as creating their own pads or tampons from old clothing or taking pills to prevent their periods altogether. Thus, it is critical right now for women to have their voices amplified—discussing matters that not only apply to women generally but also about Muslim communities in Montreal and across the world. 

In speaking with Muslim McGill students, they expressed their own perspectives on the importance of allowing women’s voices to be particularly pertinent during this time. First year biochemistry major Hailey* found that, “it is important that Ramadan this year is happening during Women’s History Month, because I think that a lot of people have this perception about Islam that it is oppressive on women. But I obviously completely disagree.” Hailey, who grew up in France, is accustomed to the aggression presented towards Muslims. Coming to Montreal, where tensions are still present, allowed her to reflect on what exactly Muslim women are being targeted for, saying that in the context of Women’s History Month, “it is very important to tell people that Islam is not an oppressive religion, that no one is forcing anyone to wear a hijab — actually people are forcing women to take them off.” 

Another first year Arts student, Lena*, commented on the impact of Bill 21 directly: “I feel like Canada is a place where everyone comes together to accept each other’s differences, whether that be religion, values, family; and that bill is highly discriminatory. It is extremely disappointing to see a province in Canada conjure up something like that.” As a prospective political science major, her interest in this bill motivated her to conduct informal research on the implications of this law. She finds in the present moment that people need to be willing to speak up against Muslim discrimination, or injustices in general, that are happening both in the Montreal community and beyond. 

“I’m glad we have people who are speaking up and out against this. You have a lot of people out there who are willing to make their voices heard and do something about wrongdoings in our [local] community,” she said, reflecting on the importance of amplified Muslim voices in vital moments. “Now’s a very important time for maybe the university and governments to encourage Muslim voices to say more, speak more; and individuals should take the time to educate themselves on problems that are happening to fellow Muslims or Muslims around the world.” 

While the month of Ramadan is meant to encourage reflection and prayer for its believers, the siege on Gaza and worsening conditions in Palestine also come at the forefront of many worries. With supplies continuing to diminish, Muslims fasting in Palestine, who have begun to undergo a mass starvation, are placed in even more dire circumstances. Those watching internationally have found a growing need to complete zakat, one of the five core pillars within Islam: shahada (profession of faith), salat (prayer), zakat (alms/charity), sawm (fasting), and hajj (pilgrimage). Muslims across the world are joining forces by donating to charities to bring relief and aid in any way they can. Ramadan, a holiday meant to be celebrated with loved ones, has now been weighed down by emotions of grief, anger, and dismay instead of joy. While Islamophobia has been present in Quebec long before to the October 7 attack, discrimination has only become amplified across higher education institutions in both the U.S. and Canada, exemplified by the continued protests and free-speech infringements present at Columbia University and its sister school, Barnard College. 

As Ramadan overlaps with this critical historical moment, many Muslims are reassessing their perspective on the importance of the holiday. Hailey expressed a newfound epiphany, saying that what is happening in Palestine right now “strengthens the point of Ramadan even more.” While fasting calls for a restriction of all food and beverage from only dawn to sunset, Palestinians are forced into total starvation. “I’ve seen stories of Palestinians break fast with just grass. I can’t even begin to imagine what they must be going through,” says Hailey. Self-reflection during these times proves more necessary than ever before. 

Lena recounted what she has been doing during Ramadan to remain conscious of what is happening globally: “I take a few minutes in the morning to just reflect and be grateful for what I have and make dua for those who are not as fortunate, for those who have lost a lot. And I take this time to educate myself more on the issues that are going on. The only thing I think I can do is just make dua — make prayer.” 

*Names have been changed to protect the individuals’ identities.